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In a broad sense, the Russian definition for the work kulak means “tight fisted”.
After the Russian Revolution, the definition of kulak was expanded to mean “exploiter”. The purpose of this expansion of the devision was to include the more affluent peasants as “the wealthy and class enemies of the state”.
The ruling party had deemed the more affluent peasants as kulaks and enemies of the state. Lenin went one step further and called them “bloodsuckers, plunderers, and profiteers”. This led government officials to violently seize kulak farms and any other assets which were privately held and murder any resistors.
Since the term kulak was of a broad relative nature, it was easy to classify anyone as a kulak. However, early in the process the Soviets divided the peasants into three general categories: the poorer peasants where bedryaks; the peasants of average means were serednyaks; and the more prosperous peasants were kulaks and also classified as enemies of the state.
The attacks on the “kulaks” took place during the 1920s and early 1930s. Since the Soviets and the peasants were uncertain as to what constituted a kulak, the term generally applied to anyone who had more property than was considered “normal”; the individual may not necessarily have been prosperous. In the early 1930s, the amount typically confiscated from a kulak was in the range of 170 to 400 rubles or 90 to 210 dollars.
In 1929 the Soviets tried to clarify the definition of a kulak and set the following guides: anyone who used hired help; anyone who operated a mill or any mechanical machine; anyone who rented out any equipment; anyone who managed any trade/commercial deals; or anyone who had a non-labor source of income. However, the authorities still had the power to proclaim anyone a kulak, and any peasant who sold his surplus goods always was automatically classifed as a kulak.
In the beginning, the penalty for being labeled a kulak was no worse than being placed on mistrust by the authorities and possibly being disenfranchised. However, the label soon led to deportations and executions. It must be noted that in 1924 a Soviet politician said, “We are fond of describing any peasant who has enough to eat as a kulak”.
Since the Soviets had identified the more prosperous peasants as the kulaks and labeled them as enemies of the state, the Soviets’ next act was to establish a method for the liquidation of this entire class. The Soviets referred to this as dekulakization.
A resolution was formulated by the authorities in 1929 and put into effect in 1930. The new policy stated, “On measures for the elimination of all kulak households” all kulaks would be dived into three categories. The categories were identified as:
- Category 1 – To be shot or imprisoned as decided by the local secret political police.
- Category 2 – After the confiscation of their property, they were to be sent to places such as Siberia, the North of Russia, the Urals, or Kazakhstan.
- Category 3 – To be evicted from their houses and assigned to labor camps within their own districts.
In later years the apprehension of kulaks and collectivization of private property was conducted in unison. In such cases, the assets were taken from the kulak and immediately placed into the local collective. In some cases, the kulak would then be forced to work in the collective. It is estimated that during the years of 1930 and 1931, over 2 million kulaks were deported.
It must also be noted that in many cases, the local officials were assigned quotas to identify kulaks, and were told to use their discretionary powers to find Kulaks wherever they could. This led to many cases in which kulaks were found to be a peasant who employed only his sons or family members, or a peasant who displayed any assets which were considered to be above the norm of what an average peasant would possess. The same fate was the end of those who helped kulaks. Anyone who helped a kulak was labeled a podkulacknik. The same fate awaited a podkulacknik as it did a kulak.
In 1937, an all out surge of persecution was leveled against “ex-kulaks” – peasants who had already had their wealth seized. This was the beginning of the Great Purge. Those deemed ex-kulaks were either executed or sent to labor camps. At this point very few rich or middle-class peasants were left to arrest. Therefore to satisfy the conviction quotas, the NKVD terrorized more of the peasantry to induce more denunciations. In the surge of round-ups that followed, the term “kulak” lost its earlier distinction and became a general accusation (such as wrecking [sabotage, undermining]), which could be leveled at anyone whom the troikas wished to convict. During the Great Purge, hundreds of thousands of peasants were falsely accused of being ex-kulaks. Some were sent to labor camps or Gulags. Others were executed based on circumstantial evidence, forged evidence, or no evidence at all.
According to the retrieved documents, an individual owning as few as two cows was qualified to be labeled a kulak. In some cases, peasants were falsely accused of being a kulak. Priests, ministers, and informants automatically were labeled as a kulak. The terrorizing of individuals resulted in the Soviet elimination of an entire class of people within a few short years. It is obvious that class warfare is a dreadful disease in any society.
Attached are the names of over 600 individuals who were “dekulakized”. These names were extracted from a very large list of names. Among the names which were retrieved are the names of two men who were married to sisters of my maternal grandmother.